Minor ii V I; Your Best Approach

Welcome to the evil brother of the major II V I. In this lesson I will show you the easiest and most effective approach to improvising over the minor ii V i progression.

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This is Part 3 of my Top 5 Chord Progression series.

Make sure you have a good handle on the major II V I before continuing with this lesson. I will be applying the same concepts in this lesson so it is important you have a grasp of the major II V I first.

Topics I will cover in this lesson:

  • The Big Picture of minor ii V i’s.
  • My Easy Approach to minor ii V i’s.
  • Detailed analysis of each chord.
  • Quick TAB examples to get you started.

Minor ii V i Example minor ii vi example

So in Blue Bossa our key is C minor.

  • Dm7b5 is our ii chord
  • G7 b9 is our V chord
  • Cm7 is our i Chord

The Big Picture

If we zoom out, the big picture of a minor ii V i is:

  • The V chord leads to the minor I chord.
  • The ii chord prepares the V chord.
  • The i minor chord is our tonic/ home chord. (Yes a tonic chord can be minor!)

An Easy Approach

Before I get into the nitty gritty details here is an easy 2 step approach for you guys who want to start soloing right away:

1. Blanket a minor ii V i with the aeolian mode natural minor scale of your minor key.

2. Change one note on the V chord. On the V7 chord, use the major 7th of your minor key instead of the b7. e.g, in C minor use the note B natural instead of a Bb. So that was the easier way. Now, let’s dissect the minor ii V I for a better approach.

The I chord

Our tonic or resting chord is a minor chord of some type. Unlike the tonic major chord, on a tonic minor chord we have THREE scales to choose from. Each option has just one different note and a unique sound. You, the improviser, have the power to choose.

Tonic Minor Chord Options

Click on each scale to view each scale’s individual lesson.

Aeolian Fingering

All of these scale diagrams have their root (white note) on the 5th string.


Dorian Fingering


Melodic Minor Scale


Which Scale Should I Choose?

First of all, can you see which notes are different between C aeolian, C dorian and C melodic minor? Play through each scale now and LISTEN to the different color of each scale. My #1 rule: accustom your ears to the sound of each option and let your ears be your guide. BUT – If you are like me having a few guidelines is helpful to getting started.

Guidelines for what Tonic Minor Chord/Scale to Play

  • Aelolian/ minor 7 chord is your first option.
  • Use the dorian major 6th/ min6 chord for more colour.
  • For a big, colourful sound use melodic minor/ min-maj7 chord.

What style of jazz are you playing?

Traditionally, jazz musicians stay away from tonic minor 7 chords. Minor 6 chords and min-maj7 chords are most often used by old school musicians. In practice, modern jazz musicians use a combination of many minor scales depending on the song, their mood and the context.

Easy, right? Make sure you have each of those minor scales under your fingers before moving on.

The ii Chord

The ii chord in a minor ii V is always a m7b5 chord or half- diminished chord. Check out my m7b5 lesson now to learn how to improvise on half diminished chords. Check some m7b5 arpeggios here. Return here when you are ready.

Half Diminished or m7b5 Chord Definition

A chord containing a root, b3, b5 and b7. Functions as a ii chord in a minor key


The V7 Chord

The V7 chord’s role is to lead back towards the minor key. The most common dominant chords are:

  • dom7b9
  • dom7#5
  • dom7Alt
  • or any combination of dom7b9#9b5#5

Check out my V7 – minor key lesson and return here when you are ready to wrap it all up. Make sure you check out the section of that lesson where I discuss using diminished arpeggios on dom7b9 chords.

5 Rules to Sum Up Minor ii V i’s

  1. Use aeolian, dorian or melodic minor scales on a tonic I minor Chord
  2. Use locrian or locrian #2 on iim7b5 Chords
  3. REMEMBER aeolian scale = ii Locrian scale
  4. Change the b7 of the aeolian scale to the major 7th to outline the V7 chord
  5. Use altered or half-whole diminished scale on the V7 chord for a more sophisticated sound.

Guide Tone Voice Leading

One of your best tools for navigating any chord progression is voice leading. To do this, you simply need to know the chord or guide tones of each chord (the 3rd and 7th) and then create a line to tie them together musically. Below are examples of chord tones in a minor key and then a few voice leading patterns to get you started.

minor ii V i pattern 1 minor ii V i pattern 2 minor ii V i pattern 3

Congratulations you made it to the end of the lesson! I hope you now have a better understanding of how to improvise of this common chord progression. Take a break; you deserve it!

Thanks for stopping by, feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com


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